That Was Me Who Interrupted Your Dinner

August 20th, 2011 at 12:31 am | 51 Comments |

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While I waited outside the building for the second round of interviewing for my first real job, I saw a man get into a fight with a homeless drug addict. I was 17 years old. After I had gotten the job, I sat down at my desk. And in the cubicle next to me was the same man who had downed the vagabond. I was working as a telemarketer, selling newspaper subscriptions from an office in one of Toronto’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

I quit after a few weeks, and found work in a trendy clothing store, surrounded by pretty girls who, on more than one occasion, nearly had me fired for creating a heartbroken work environment.

Back then, I was about to start college in the fall with my then-girlfriend, and things were looking wonderful. As I sat in my first lecture, and saw we would be studying The Great Gatsby in the spring, I looked back at my first job, thinking how sad it was and how I would never have to go back to work like that.  I’d be “university educated!”

I’m about to go into my senior year, and The Great Gatsby is still one of my favorite books. In fact, I bring it to work every day so that I have something to read on my break and take my mind off things. You see, I’m working at that telemarketing place again, and nothing has changed except me.

The interview process was the same. The video they showed us (circa late 1990s) was the same. My pay, $10.25 per hour plus a measly commission, was the same. And the people were the same: immigrants from the Third World, people with faces cracked like bark who reek of Old English, and Somali women trying to put themselves through community colleges that advertise on television. And the product we sold, newspaper subscriptions, was the same. The only tangible difference in the company is that demand for paper subscriptions has shot down dramatically since I worked there last.

As then, I come into work at four every day and sit at my desk. The office is gray, the cubicles are gray, and even my supervisors’ clothes are gray. Their faces too, and their hungry eyes as they stare at the shapely, shy young women from Nairobi who come in looking for work. The room is windowless, and all the cubicles are devoid of personal effects. No one seems to speak to each other.

Telemarketing goes along the lines of,“If I’ve met you one day, you might be gone the next. If you’ve met me, I might gone tomorrow.” It has one of the highest turnover rates of any job, and more often than not, you’ll be fired for not having made a sale for a few days straight.

So how does one reach his quota? Our supervisors say skill and talent, and to a certain degree, that is true. But the fact of the matter is that selling over the phone is more a game of roulette than poker; it almost certainly depends on who picks up your call.

My first sale was pure luck. I happened to come across a brash woman who wanted a subscription even before I gave her my pitch. Another person in a small town said to me, “You’re a good salesman, but you better try it on somebody else.” I did, and the next person laughed. “You almost sound pre-recorded, but you better try elsewhere, honey.” Elsewhere is usually the sound of a phone slamming in your ear, or a fed-up wife (because you have to push, my superiors say) getting her husband to yell obscenities until you apologize and hang up.

If telemarketing happened over Skype and the potential customers could see the sad faces of the salespeople, I’m sure we’d see a huge increase in subscriptions.

The general perception is that telemarketers have lousy or menial jobs; as I’ve said, people constantly mistreat them, or slam the phone in their faces. But as a telemarketer, you realize there’s something else that gnaws at you whenever you come into work: you’re expected to be a machine.

Telemarketing is based on a script. Veer away from the script, and you’ll get a serious talking-to by your supervisor. You begin with the same introduction every time, “Hello, this is Name calling on behalf of Newspaper X. How are you today?” and continue until the customer cuts you off, or, more often than not, turns you off. In the former case, he’ll respond with something along the lines of “I read the news online” or “I already subscribe to another paper.” But don’t worry! You won’t have to think up an answer! Because in such circumstances, the script provides the telemarketer with the appropriate, company-decided response.

Regardless of how feeble it may seem to you, or however you think you can improve on it, you’re made to follow it. There is no room for creativity or individualism in telemarketing; I’m not exaggerating when I say a machine could do this job—and in many cases, now do. After a couple of shifts, you won’t even need the script anymore; the words are burnt onto your tongue.

To give you an idea of how many times you’ll say the same thing over and over again, my supervisor told me our office calls about twelve and half million households within the span of twelve months. That means, we each call about a hundred and fifty people an hour; that’s twelve hundred a day. Some are faulty numbers, others answering machines, many are immediate hang-ups. But regardless, this is the truly grueling part of telemarketing: the constant repetition.

Sometimes, you won’t get past the first sentence of your pitch. Other times, you’ll have spent three minutes talking only to have the person say “Sorry, not interested” and then hang-up. I might be wrong in saying this, but some people seem to enjoy wasting a telemarketer’s time. People tend to hate telemarketers, but what they forget is that, as annoying as they may be, they don’t mean to be. They’re people trying to make a living, and if they insist on you buying their product, it’s only because their supervisor is breathing down their neck, dangling a noose alongside a quota chit.

Over the course of this summer, I had tried time and time again to find real work. Telemarketing, where they say “come back anytime”, was always a back-up. But a back-up that seemed more like a step-back, and as such, highly improbable. Surely, I could find better work. But I obviously didn’t, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the work here isn’t only embarrassing, but downright depressing.

Some people may get used to it. But after years studying the flower-wreathed passages of Wharton, or the golden glories of ancient Rome, life suddenly becomes harsh when you sit next to someone with almost no teeth and what looks like steel wool for hair.  Surely I could do better than this?


Daniel Portoraro, 21, is a senior at the University of Toronto, majoring in English.  This is the third in his five-part series of trying to find summer work in a tough economy.

Recent Posts by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro



51 Comments so far ↓

  • HartlepoolLisa

    I dabbled in telemarketing and I’m ashamed to say I was pretty good at it, purely because my supervisors allowed me to go off script and be totally honest with people. I worked for a time share company inviting people to attend a sales presentation. I really envy your work environment though, my coworkers were not Nairobi women, 50% of my coworkers were literally bused in on work release from Kalamazoo County Corrections.

    • Smargalicious

      Daniel just needs to shut the hell up.

      He partied his ass off in college getting a history/liberal arts degree while getting drunk and high all the time, probably graduated with a non-competitive GPA (below a 3.5), and NOW he wants us to feel sorry for him. Sheeeiiiit.

      Daniel, get off your ass, beg some more school money from your daddy or get a student loan, and get yourself a Microsoft Certification or become an RN to get a job in today’s labor market.

      Until then, shaddap.

  • NRA Liberal

    “Toronto’s most dangerous neighborhoods”!…

    ahahaha

    Sorry, son just a bit of mirth. Enjoying this series as usual. You really need to read “Nickled and Dimed” and also “Bait and Switch”.

    And if you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and take some abuse and make a lot of coffee runs, apprentice to a union trade. You’ll be making excellent money before long, doing something socially useful (as opposed to phone-marketing crappy rags or selling trendy Chinese-made clothing).

    Best of all, the skilled trades give you a lot of flexibility to take time off.

    • Banty

      I get what you’re saying about trades, most of my relatives are in the trades or transportion, and I encouraged my son to consider it.

      But, there’s a certain amount of commitment to go into the trades. Apprentice as a carpenter, you’re first summer may be hauling up roofing shingles, and you won’t learn a heck of a lot. And some trades are hard to break into.

      • NRA Liberal

        True. But it’s a good gig for a wannabe writer, and you get to meet a different set of folks from the usual flaneurs, poseurs, learned barflies, dandies, eggheads and pretentious gits that infest writing circles.

    • jjack

      Toronto’s most dangerous neighborhood has three cases of fisticuffs and one loud talking-to per year. So don’t mock…

      • NRA Liberal

        Don’t get me wrong–I love Toronto. One of the most civilized cities in North America. Cars actually stop and let pedestrians cross the street!

  • PracticalGirl

    Not sure about Canada but in the US, 80% of all entry level jobs for college graduates include a sales component. No matter where you land, chances are high that you’ll have to “sell” your work and your ideas to gain buy-in from colleagues and clients.

    There isn’t a sales manager out there who doesn’t respect the skills learned as a telemarketer, and most HR professionals will give you high marks in the “people skills” department because of them. And if you’re serious about advertising agencies (I’m holding out hope that you’ll find work as a columnist), your experience helps demonstrate patience, consensus building and flexibility in dealing with a variety of levels of people-key in account management as well as creative services.

    You may not see it now, but this is “real” work that can help give you a real competitive edge over other applicants with similar backgrounds when you actually get your degree and begin looking for full time employment.

  • honeybee

    Dude. You are a kid. ALL work is REAL work for you. Do you really think that every one of us here graduated from college and went straight to the top? Most everyone has what I like to call “character-building jobs” in their history. It is good for you. Doing what you are doing now will teach you a lot about working with other people and about life. I actually think a summer job in construction and the like would have actually been better for you, though, because I think that you might need to see what life is like for those who labor with their backs.

    I have a question for you. You have only three years of college behind you, and you are majoring in English. Exactly what kind of fulfilling work did you expect to get for the summer?

    And why is $10.25 per hour plus a commission something to sneer at for you? I have friends who are grown women raising families doing accounts payable for only $12 or $13 and they have 20 years of experience. Are you better than them?

    Humorously enough, I am an HR Manager, and I find your articles irritating. Your self-important attitude says a lot about you. That is not the kind of person I want on my team.

  • Oldskool

    Hard to say if you could do better. Probably depends how badly you wanna do better. I did a lot of crappy jobs growing up until I found something enjoyable. That was when work stopped being work.

  • Kevin B

    Sometimes, you won’t get past the first sentence of your pitch. Other times, you’ll have spent three minutes talking only to have the person say “Sorry, not interested” and then hang-up. I might be wrong in saying this, but some people seem to enjoy wasting a telemarketer’s time.

    There are polite ways to tell someone that you aren’t interested. They don’t work with telemarketers. They are trained to give you as little opportunity to say no as they can. And they are trained to respond to subtle hints such as “I don’t need vinyl siding because I live in a log cabin” with pre-programmed pitches.

    I usually wait until the telemarketer takes a breath before saying I’m not interested. Eventually the telemarketer will try to engage you in the conversation by asking you a question, such as “which of these three fabulous vacations that I just described would you like best?” That’s my opportunity to say, politely, “Thank you, but I’m not interested.”

    I never slam down the receiver. It wouldn’t do any good, because I’m typically using a cordless handset. So no matter how firmly I press the “end conversation” button, it sounds the same to a telemarketer as it does to by very bestest friend. Technology makes them equal in the end, though a friend would be able to take a hint.

    • NRA Liberal

      I don’t wait for them to catch their breath. I just cut in and say, politely and firmly, “No thanks, I’m not interested” and then hang up on them.

      • PracticalGirl

        The National No Call Registry is a great way to block these unwanted interruptions. Works for cells, as well. I haven’t had a land line at home for almost a decade, and I simply register my cell as my home phone. Presto-no calls.

    • Houndentenor

      I hang up as soon as I realize it’s a telemarketer. Fortunately I have a last name that seems to be difficult to pronounce (in spite of the fact that it is spelled as close to phonetically as one can in English) and the moment I hear them trip over my surname I’m off the phone.

      Why do people “waste your time”? Because your pitch is designed to keep them from hanging up, so they do. They did what you wanted them to up to the point of giving you their credit card number.

      Face it, you have a job that pays little and that people despise. It will be good practice for when you go into law or politics where you will be paid well and despised even more.

  • Banty

    I have two reactions to this. The first one is that my 18 year old son makes better money lifeguarding. Maybe expand your thinking on this a bit?

    My second reaction is that, yes, there will always be demand for people to fill certain crappy, nearly exploitative jobs. These soul killing and horse whipped telemarketing gigs. Bottom rungs of multilevel marketing schemes where by far most people are stuck with a pile of stuff they can’t sell, having paid the price to the guy on the next rung up. Many stripes of jobs, like landscaping, for which competition has squeezed down and bottomed out pay, to the point that the job won’t cover medical care for the strains and injuries suffered working the job. And when I hear about how the current crop of Republicans are all about jobs, jobs, jobs, by making nice with “job creators”, I think that the largest proportion of such jobs, and such job creators, are of this ilk.

    That’s why you usually can’t pin them down on details. And even if you do, like I’ve heard on some recent radio commentary regarding Gov. Perry’s jobs, you run into a flurry of ‘tough talk’ retorts like “there’s people LINING UP for these jobs, you effete so-and-so”. I heard one guy claim “oh YEAH, I know people GLAD to have these jobs; they’ll work THREE of them to make ends meet for their family”. In which case I wonder – in all fairness then, shouldn’t a divisor of three be applied to these job creation numbers?

  • Oldskool

    As soon as I hear people in the background or any kind of recording, I hang up. After the first few hundred calls, it dawned on me that being nice counts for nothing except a loss of cell time. You probably have it easier making local calls as opposed to long distance robo calls.

  • Argy F

    I find your articles witty, charming & insightful.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Nanotek

    “Some people may get used to it. But after years studying the flower-wreathed passages of Wharton, or the golden glories of ancient Rome, life suddenly becomes harsh when you sit next to someone with almost no teeth and what looks like steel wool for hair. Surely I could do better than this?”

    solutions dance before your eyes … change your focus … come off your high-horse first … that person with almost no teeth had dreams equal to yours … create opportunities for others … as for the golden glories of Rome … it wasn’t so good for 99% of the population … get real and go create wealth … lead others to the value of their own creation

  • Graychin

    Someone should explain to Mr. Portoraro the difference between education and vocational training. I don’t see many job ads that say “Knowledge of The Great Gatsby required. Familiarity with the flower-wreathed passages of Wharton and the golden glories of ancient Rome a plus.”

    Nevertheless, I sympathize with his excursion into the soul-destroying work of telemarketing. At least he is selling for a legitimate business (a newspaper) and not participating in the kind of scam that helps give telemarketers a bad name. Free vacations? Refinance your credit cards?

    When the USA implemented its national “do not call” list, I suppose that one of the unintended consequences was to eliminate thousands of entry-level jobs for young people like Mr. Portoraro. But that’s OK with me. I deal with the few dinnertime calls that still occur by announcing politely that we are on the “do not call” list. The salesmen always say “thank you” and hang up promptly. One more way that America is better than Canada.

    One more thing – STOP POINTING THAT CIGARETTE AT ME! Besides, I can smell the stink on your clothes as soon as you walk into the room. It’s a big minus for me when I interview you, just like the body odor of someone who doesn’t shower. Do you think I want to smell that every day from now on?

    • NRA Liberal

      “…One more thing – STOP POINTING THAT CIGARETTE AT ME! Besides, I can smell the stink on your clothes as soon as you walk into the room. It’s a big minus for me when I interview you, just like the body odor of someone who doesn’t shower. Do you think I want to smell that every day from now on?….”

      It’s true, a different set of values apply to “How To Dress for An Interview” vis a vis “How To Dress For The Author Photo Of Your First Novel”.

  • Arms Merchant

    The entitlement mentality was the same (“If telemarketing happened over Skype and the potential customers could see the sad faces of the salespeople, I’m sure we’d see a huge increase in subscriptions.”). Dude, get a clue. People don’t owe you squat.

    The whining was the same (“There is no room for creativity or individualism in telemarketing.”). Poor baby.

    The self-aggrandizement was the same (“…nearly had me fired for creating a heartbroken work environment.”). My, such a high opinion of oneself, and boasting to the world about it, but never mind the impact on your “conquests.”

    The lack of vision was the same. (“The only tangible difference in the company is that demand for paper subscriptions has shot down dramatically since I worked there last.”) Well, duh, why are you wasting your time in a declining industry?

    In short, this article was mostly the same as the last two: tearful victim rails against the unfairness of the world for not recognizing his ever-many talents and paying him handsomely for them. Cry me a river.

    Oh, and grow up.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      wow AM, and yet you read all of his articles and feel so compelled to look down your nose at this young man because I am sure when you were 21 you were an absolute King in everything you did. Yeah, he has a chance to grow up yet, he is still a young man, but what is your excuse for being such a childish, boorish excuse for a human being? Oh, you are an asshole, that’s right, that is your excuse. Well, good luck with that.

      • Arms Merchant

        At 21 I knew that it wasn’t my customers’ or employers’ fault if I wasn’t succeeding. At 21 I knew not to serially toy with co-workers and brag about it to the world. At 21, criticism stung but I knew enough to appreciate the honesty behind it and try to learn from it.

        Obviously, this self-absorbed young man didn’t learn anything from the many insightful comments that he got from his last article. And just as obviously, like many liberals you feel that it’s more important to massage a young person’s ego than to give him some straight truths that might actually help him.

        Yes, I am a mean, mean person for hurting his wittle feewings.

    • indy

      Maybe some day you can be a ‘grown up’ like AM: Bitter, defeated, and a sad waste of flesh. Hey, AM, I think there is a little girl who has a blog post up. Have you pissed all over that yet?

      • Nanotek

        I see I’ve had way too much Stags’ Leap this evening and may live to regret this but here goes … I agree with AM full stop, even if I’m considered an asshole — proud to wear that label in that case … anyone who looks down their nose at others, such as a co-worker with “with almost no teeth and what looks like steel wool for hair” needs to check his illusions of grandeur at the door …full stop … that person with almost no teeth had dreams as precious to her as Portoraro’s dreams are to him … get a freaking life Portoraro and climb off your high-horse … what value do you bring to any equation?? … I have employed many in my life … I’ll take the “almost no teeth” over him any day … nanotechnology and AGI are about to change the world fundamentally … I’d weep for the future if I didn’t suspect what was coming …synthetic sentience emerging from human technologies may save us — or sweep us aside — yet

        • indy

          Since you’ve had a few and are apparently feeling a bit philosophical, perhaps you can explain why people with crushed souls feel so compelled to crush souls? Is it simply disappointment over one’s own life transparently escaping under the guise of ‘tough but fair parental-like I’m telling you this for your own good’ wisdom? Or is something more involved?

        • Nanotek

          happy to try Indy as it’s a fair question … and perhaps I have a “crushed soul” but as a nonbeliever in souls, I’ll default to that assumption if it helps, although I much enjoy life … I detect in Portoraro’s screed the traits of self-importance that leads to bullying (in my experience) … I see no … none whatsoever … compassion by him for that person “with almost no teeth and what looks like steel wool for hair” … until he cares more about others than himself, I’ll reserve my first compassion for that person enduring him at work more than him enduring her… again … I could be wrong … it may be the wine … I hope that helps …

  • ceruleanbill

    “…pretty girls who, on more than one occasion, nearly had me fired for creating a heartbroken work environment.”

    Um…what?

  • SteveT

    I’m a middle aged man and these comments are really harsh. Leaving aside the writer’s style, it is harder now for young people than it was for me or anyone my age and older. There are less jobs, less opportunities for advancement, and more lies about which way is the correct one to achieve said advancement. Oh, and everything costs a ton more than it did 20-30-40 years ago. Whatever your personal timeframe is.

  • jjack

    Dude, you majored in English.

  • PracticalGirl

    I see I’ve had way too much Stags’ Leap this evening

    Can we all just stop for a moment and appreciate Nanotek’s excellent choice of wine to go along with the bust of Alexandre’s whine? Nothing like a little vino to bring out the inner-asshole…And the truth. Either this is a witty piece of quasi-fiction, embellished to incite emotion and attract attention or he really believes what he writes. Maybe a bit of both.

    Although I see budding writing talent, I, too, am a bit repulsed by some of this kid’s arrogant observations. My favorite is his description of his ability to (apparently) ravage his coworkers to the point of workplace disruption. One more hard lesson young Portorarao seems destined to learn the hard way: When you’re 17, that behavior might be overlooked. In the “real” workplace that he seems so hot to enter right now, it’s often called “sexual harassment”. Don’t shit where you eat, young man, if you want to keep your record clean and if you want to go to work where the women are flaxen-haired with $5,000 smiles their Daddy’s gave them, instead of steel-wool-haired with the broken smiles that nature gave.

    • Nanotek

      lol

      it is among my favorites, for sure …

      + 1 on your advice to him … I once worked with a woman that nearly matched her appearance … her boyfriend had beaten and left her, she had a young child and was absolutely determined to make her daughter’s life something she could have only dreamed of … she worked harder than anyone … became a “give it to me … I’ll get it done” model for everyone … she went on to far better things and I promised myself I’d never forget her … hence my rant … I hope I didn’t offend anyone, especially Mr. Portoraro

    • NRA Liberal

      Ah, c’mon. Any 20-year old budding writer is going to be a callow, arrogant asshole. Life will grind the sharp edges off soon enough.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        exactly, people like AM love to have those selective memories wherein they remember how it was they that was (cooler, smarter, handsomer, etc.) than everyone else at that age.

  • Oldskool

    These comments remind me of the Canadian rock group whose name I just forgot. It took them about 30 years to make money at it but they finally did, along with a documentary. The lead singer/guitarist’s stint in telemarketing lasted about a day and he looks like one of the co-workers the writer describes. And, iirc, he has a wife and kids.

    • PracticalGirl

      I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the group you’re talking about, but a contemporary example of starving-artist-does-what-it-takes-to-keep-his-night-job is Chad Kroeger of Nickelback.

      Kroeger: “Telemarketing. God, I was good at that—sucking money out of poor old ladies.”

      Now he gets it from their granddaughters. There’s hope for all rockers and writers.

    • NRA Liberal

      Anvil. A fine doc, btw.

  • indy

    Either this is a witty piece of quasi-fiction, embellished to incite emotion and attract attention or he really believes what he writes. Maybe a bit of both.

    I believe it is an attempt to be the first more than the second. The personal aspect, whether true or not, is simply a vehicle for practice. Of which more is needed. There is much to condemn here in voice, tone, and structure and a few things that are OK. I find it a little funny that people are encouraging him to apprentice at a trade when that is exactly what he is attempting. My favorite writers tend to have a background in journalism: E.B. White, Hemingway, Dreiser, Twain. Unfortunately, that kind of career where a writer could hone his craft seems to be gone. ‘Blogging’ appears to be what is left.

    • Nanotek

      Twain was an amazing genius, IMO. Have you read his Letters to Earth? I have a feeling that he would have appreciated being able to blog.

    • NRA Liberal

      Back in the day, a young writer COULD apprentice himself, as a cub journalist for instance, and learn his trade while making enough to live on.

      Not any more. It’s cutthroat competition for unpaid internships at best. I strongly suspect that the only reason this kid is on FF is due to some family connection.

      I recommended the skilled trades tongue in cheek, because it’s obvious from the fluffy haired hipster pic that Daniel here would sooner face indigence than get his hands dirty, but once you’re a journeyman with a name for yourself, it really does allow for a lot of time to do your own thing, well paid and good benefits.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        I disagree, we all have our own innate abilities and talents, telling everyone to get their hands dirty is a waste of that. Would you have told Mozart to dig drainage ditches? (I am not saying he is equivalent)
        I can promise you if you had me intern as a mechanic, I would have been an absolute disaster and not from lack of trying. It takes me twice as long to do basic work, like putting together a desk, as it does other people but I can do a hell of a lot more on computers than most people. Neighbors come to me and ask me to help set up their home networks.
        I have seen too much wasted talent in my life to encourage others to waste theirs because physical labor is somehow intrinsically “superior” than mental (the same for the reverse, but sadly physical labor is paid squat in our society)

  • dante

    What are telemarketers? Since I haven’t had a landline in the past decade, telemarketers have (mostly) become a thing of the past…

  • japhi

    This has to be satire.

    You think you are underemployed, from here it looks like you are lucky to have a job at all. I wouldnt trust you to mow my lawn.

    The irony is some of your colleagues will beat their numbers, get outside sales roles and make conisistentj 6 figures while you struggle to break 50 and moan to your friends about your bad luck.

  • Cyg

    David Mamet has a book out now. Here’s a passage Mr. Portoraro’s experience seems to confirm:

    “College, once a predictable, practicable course of study designed to fit the individual for self-support, has become, at least in the Liberal Arts, an extension of the bad high school, which is to say, of the terror of adolescence.
    The advertisement of “choice”—in curriculum, in behavior (in the glorification of “alternative lifestyles”) while a charming idea to the conscious (pleasure-bent) eighteen-year-old mind, is, actually, to him deeply unsettling. For the eighteen-year-old knows that at some point he must abandon even graduate school, and get on in a world which, he knows, the pandering cry of “choice” is not fitting him for. Gender studies, multiculturalism, semiotics, deconstruction, video art, and other such guff, while attractive to the child, as they seem to endorse his “adulthood,” are in truth, terrifying as his clock ticks on toward the school’s relaxation of its authority, that date on which it will spew the unschooled, confused, skill-less student into a world which, he must know, is uninterested in his capacity for bushwah, and wants to know what he can contribute to the common effort.
    Consider college education which, in the Liberal Arts, and in the social sciences, or whatever they may be called today, is effectively a waste of money and time, and useless save as that display of leisure and wealth Veblen called “conspicuous consumption.” A Liberal Arts education is essentially a recognition symbol, which, as such might theoretically facilitate entrance into a higher class, were entrance awarded on the basis solely of that passport; but see the MAs in English bagging groceries. Higher Education is selling an illusion: that the child of the well-to-do need not matriculate into the workforce—that mastery of a fungible skill is unnecessary.9
    It spews him eventually, even after the most attenuated “graduate study,” increasingly embraced by the affluent and confused—into a marketplace the lessons of which he is at a vast disadvantage to face, let alone master, having (a) waited too long, and (b) taught himself that he need not stoop to consider the practical.
    The Liberal Arts graduate student has stayed too long at the fair—as the once-nubile career woman finds that her marriage prospects at forty-five are not the same available to her twenty years previously; and as the middle-aged roué discovers that the possibility of domestic love and security have receded with habits formed by decades of dating and “freedom.”
    Conservative reasoning asks, “What actually is the desired result of any proposed course of action; what is the likelihood of its success; and at what cost?” (The last, importantly, including the costs of possible failure.) These are, to the social tinkerer, unknowable, their sum being expressed, euphemistically, as “the law of unintended consequences.”

    • Steve D

      Most of the commentaries on college these days are worthless because they assume students will be paying full freight at an Ivy League school. They don’t discuss local baccalaureate campuses where expenses are typically a quarter as large. My campus: $6600/year for tuition.

      Most of our liberal arts grads teach, work in business, or in government. Especially the social science types work in social agencies. The ones who get jobs in business get hired because they can write and communicate clearly and act like adults. What they don’t get is jobs as pundits and best selling authors. Our theater majors, and our program is highly regarded, work in local productions and broadcasting. But not as stars, mostly in production.

      If you go on to grad school in the Liberal Arts, that can beef up your salary as a teacher. Funny, so many conservatives who stress that rewards should be based on hard work balk at teacher contracts that actually reward hard work. If you get the Ph.D., you may end up teaching, as one high school history teacher I know did. But you may very well end up teaching in college. Not Harvard, because somebody’s already got those jobs. Most likely an undergraduate institution, teaching intro expository writing and lit classes.

      Well what about all those fine skills you’ve got? Mostly, they’re not needed. Most of the time. Mostly, a bridge doesn’t need to be as strong as it is, until a hurricane hits. Mostly, a plane doesn’t need to be as strong as it is, until it hits a violent storm. Mostly, a building doesn’t need to be as strong as it is, until there’s an earthquake. Most of us, regardless how skilled we are, spend most of our time doing routine things. Carpenters drive nails. Cops give traffic tickets. Soldiers stand guard duty. Firemen put out small fires and get cats out of trees. Pilots fly straight lines. English majors teach indifferent students to write better. Social science majors manage welfare cases. The specialized skills are called on infrequently, but they’re there if needed. You may go years before anyone asks you about Proust, but it may prove very useful when you answer. As Gandhi said, “Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it”

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  • Steve D

    Whatever credibility (all but zero) Portoraro achieved with his other pieces evaporates here.
    1. He’s selling something people don’t need, or they’d already have bought it. When he finally does get a job writing, expect fine pieces about unnecessary consumption and how consumerism is ruining the earth. Portoraro. Remember that name.
    2. Telemarketers target people who are vulnerable. Remember that when he pens a piece about “predatory lending” or indeed, anything about social responsibility.
    3. He, not the people he calls, is rude. They do not come in and interrupt his activities. He interrupts them. By definition, telemarketing is rude.
    4. He’s managed to find something even lower on the moral ladder than selling pot. Incidentally, is his delusional sense of self-worth possibly related to that other sideline?

    By the way, has he taken advantage of living in Canada to become fluent in French? Might beef up the vita a bit.